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In Print: Legal Writing for Legal Readers


By Elizabeth WeinsteinThe Ohio State University Law School Magazine | Spring 2015

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For lawyers from all backgrounds, practice areas, and geographical locations, there is one truism that extends throughout the entire legal community: lawyers write. And law students learn how to analyze legal issues, write a variety of legal documents, and refine legal arguments through legal writing and research classes.

At Moritz, students take pride in knowing that two of their legal writing professors, Mary Beth Beazley and Monte Smith ’90, literally wrote the book on legal writing. Beazley and Smith’s textbook, Legal Writing for Legal Readers, helps students learn to think about legal writing from a reader’s perspective.

Written in a conversational, user-friendly tone, it highlights the differences between strong and weak legal writing, by presenting examples of both. It does so through:

  • A range of both strong and weak legal documents, selected to illustrate legal writing concepts
  • Broad coverage that includes memos and briefs, as well as complaints, correspondence, and criminal motions
  • Sidebar comments from the authors that provide context and insight
  • Annotations that incorporate cognitive and behavioral theories to explain why some approaches work better than others
  • Additional online resources

The book begins with an analogy comparing legal documents to cooking recipes, noting, “Regular readers (and users) of recipes have certain expectations as to how the information in the recipes will be presented and what information will be included. When recipes meet readers’ expectations, it’s easier for readers to use their recipes for their purpose: to prepare particular foods.”

Like recipes, the authors continue, “legal writing is writing that is written for a purpose. The purpose may be to persuade a court or another attorney to do something, or to inform a client or a supervisor about what a court might do. But your goal as a writer is always to give readers the information they need.”

The first half of the book addresses fundamental elements of legal analysis, such as reading cases and statutes, discovering authority, the meaning of rules and facts, and the structure and organization of legal analysis. The second half tackles the preparation of all types of legal documents, including basic research memoranda, correspondence, complaints, demand letters, and motion memoranda. The authors also discuss the legal thinking involved in the creation of such documents, and the book’s final chapter gives special attention to the technique of persuasion.

Beazley and Smith utilize examples from popular culture, such as TV’s “Law and Order,” and a plethora of actual cases, to illustrate their points. They even explain the smallest details of legal writing – commas – with a touch of humor: “The comma before the conjunction is commonly known as ‘the Oxford comma.’ We like it and recommend it for all legal writers, and we don’t care how you happen to feel about Oxford as an institution or a location.”

The authors’ goal in writing Legal Writing for Legal Readers is clear: to help lawyers learn to recognize the specific elements and analysis that make legal writing most effective, so that they will make better, more informed choices in their own writing, during and after law school.